Tyler Aldridge, Mitch Bohon, and Cole Vaughan will be able to look back one day and know they were a part of something special.
Their efforts this season were instrumental in helping the East Mississippi Community College baseball team get back to the postseason and making the first step toward becoming a perennial contender.
The sophomores were recently rewarded for their efforts with opportunities to continue to play the game they love.
Aldridge (Delta State), Bohon (William Carey), and Vaughan (University of Mobile) all signed with four-year schools after helping the Lions finish 17-29 and 14-10 in the MACJC North Division.
“I progressed a ton this past year,” said Vaughan, a former Heritage Academy standout. “This year helped out a lot (in his maturity). (Assistant) coach Michael Wallace changed the way I looked at pitching.”
Vaughan went 0-4 with a 4.15 ERA and two saves. He struck out 26 and walked four in 26 innings. He played a key role moving from a relief role in a spot in the starting rotation after injuries hit the Lions” staff.
Vaughan said the key to his development was an attitude conveyed by Wallace that EMCC”s pitchers needed to be aggressive. He said Wallace”s approach was like a “new way” of pitching, and it forced him to rely more on his fastball.
“Before I was a junkball pitcher who would throw a changeup and a curveball (as his primary pitches) and throw my fastball for strikes. Coach Wallace told me to wait until they hit the fastball and then throw the curveball. He wanted us to be 100 percent aggressive.”
Vaughan chose the University of Mobile after also receiving interest from Belhaven, Millsaps, and the University of West Alabama. He said he first received calls from college coaches in the beginning of April, which was just about the time he transitioned into the starting rotation. His maturation into a different pitchers marked a significant step, especially considering he broke his ankle last summer and missed the fall season. He said he didn”t start to throw until January when he had the boot on his foot removed. He said it is gratifying that he was able to progress so quickly and get a shot to keep his baseball career alive.
“The University of Mobile was one of the first schools to call,” said Vaughan, who will study business. “You always want to go to a school that wants you. They talked to me like I was going to be a starting pitcher and that I was going to help them out a lot.”
Bohon had an equally impressive sophomore season. The former Oak Hill Academy standout hit his stride late in the season with a power surge that helped him finish the season with a team-leading seven home runs. Bohon tied for third in batting average (.300), was third on the team in hits (36), second in runs (26), tied for first in RBIs (23), and first in on-base percentage (.425).
“I thought William Carey was a nice school, and I thought they had nice facilities,” Bohon said. “I felt like it was a good fit.”
Bohon, who made his decision last week, said a change in his batting stance triggered his surge at the end of the year. He said a leg kick was added to his stance to help him stay behind the baseball so he could drive it. He said he had a slight leg kick when he played in high school and that the change this season wasn”t anything out of the ordinary. The results, though, came in impressive fashion.
“I think I hit four or five or my home runs in the last 10 or 15 games,” said Bohon, an infielder who also considered Millsaps. “I wasn”t hitting without the leg kick, and my confidence started building up (after he added it) and I went from there.”
Aldridge was a driving force in the lineup all season. The former Caledonia High standout led the Lions with a .338 batting average. he also paced the team in hits (51), doubles (13), runs (28), and tied for the team lead in RBIs (23) and triples (two).
After being plagued by injuries through his career at Caledonia, Aldridge said it is satisfying to get an opportunity to play for a program that has as much tradition as Delta State.
“They play hard, they love to win, and they never give up,” Aldridge said. “They take everything and focus on one pitch at a time, just like we did this past year. play hard and work hard at everything they do.”
Aldridge admitted he was “shocked” when he received a phone call from Delta State. He said he “never thought” he would attract attention from Delta State and that he always wanted to go to the school. He said he signed his national letter of intent last month.
“My senior year during baseball season I was down because I wouldn”t be able to pitch,” Aldridge said. “I thought I wasn”t going to be able to play baseball again. I reflect on that and one of the things I cherish is that God gave me the ability to play and gave me the ability to play at the next level at East Mississippi and that no injuries occurred and I was allowed to go on and play at Delta State.”
Aldridge did his damage for the Lions from the leadoff spot. In addition to hitting in a new spot in the order, Aldridge played a variety of positions — from catcher to second base to third base. He feels his versatility will serve him well when he takes the field for Delta State.
“It is going to tough, but it is going to be fun,” Aldridge said. “I always like a challenge, and I love playing for a coach who is hard-nosed, who plays hard, and who loves the game. I expect to go in and to work hard and if I start, I start. If I don”t, I will do my best.”
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.